Japan art and Hiratsuka Unichi: Grand old man of Sosaku Hanga

Japan art and Hiratsuka Unichi: Grand old man of Sosaku Hanga

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Japanese artist Hiratsuka Unichi (Un’ichi) was born in 1895 and died in 1997. Hiratsuka is connected strongly with the sōsaku hanga (creative prints) art movement. Indeed, Hiratsuka is endearingly called the “grand old man” of sōsaku hanga.

The British Museum says, “Hiratsuka qualifies in every respect as the grand old man of the ‘Sosaku Hanga’ movement. He was born in Shimane Prefecture, the son of a shrine carpenter, but, having met Ishii Hakutei (q.v.) in his home town of Matsue in 1913, went to Tokyo in 1915 to study Western painting with Okada Saburosuke (1869-1939). Ishii advised him to learn block-carving, in which he already had acquired a keen interest. This he did during 1915 with Igami Bonkotsu, the craftsman who had already done much work with the creative print artists. His thorough training with Igami made him the ‘hands’ of ‘Sosaku Hanga’ thereafter.” 

The art in this article by Hiratsuka concern the 1920s to early 1940s. His delightful color schemes enable the landscapes to look extra-dimensional and mystical. 

Hiratsuka taught many artists. For example, Okiie Hashimoto, Fumio Kitaoka, Kobashi Yasuhide, and Shiko Munakata. Hence, his influence continues today.

Hiratsuka said, “Printing in black on white is often considered the first step of the technique, but it is actually the final point…”

He lived in America for over 30 years. However, a few years before dying, Hiratsuka returned home.

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